'MouseJack' turns wireless mice, keyboards into liabilities

Peripherals that use unencrypted radio signals to communicate can create vulnerabilities for enterprises.

The "MouseJack" is the latest attack vector for malicious actors to access computers and infiltrate networks.

Wireless mice and keyboards often communicate with their paired PC via radio signals sent to wireless dongles. When unencrypted, non-Bluetooth signals are sent between peripherals and a dongle plugged into a PC, the dongle is unable to distinguish between packets transmitted by a mouse and those transmitted by an attacker. As a result, an attacker can pretend to be a mouse or keyboard and transmit packets to a dongle, which can be passed on to the computer's operating system as if the victim had legitimately entered them.

Since the connection is wireless, and mouse movements and keystrokes are sent over the air, it is possible to compromise a victim's computer by transmitting specially crafted radio signals using a device that costs as little as $15, according to officials at Bastille, the security company that discovered the vulnerability.

Because the attack is at the keyboard level, any PCs, Macs or Linux machines using non-Bluetooth wireless dongles can be victims. Notable wireless keyboard and mouse manufacturers affected by the MouseJack discovery include: Logitech, Dell and Lenovo, Bastille officials said, but other wireless dongles are also vulnerable. Systems using Bluetooth-enabled keyboards and mice use a completely different transmission and encryption system, which is not vulnerable to this attack.

There are three ways the attack can occur:

  1. Spoofing a mouse. If a dongle does not verify that the packet type and transmitting device type match, it is possible for an attacker to pretend to be a mouse, but transmit a keypress packet.
  2. Spoofing a keyboard. While most wireless keyboards encrypt data before transmitting to the dongle, not all dongles require encryption, allowing an attacker to transmit unencrypted keyboard packets to the dongle.
  3. Forced pairing. Because some vendors allow users to pair new peripherals with an existing dongle, or pair an existing keyboard or mouse with a new dongle, attackers can introduce their own keyboard to the dongle and use it to access the victim’s computer.

“MouseJack is essentially a door to the host computer,” said Marc Newlin, Bastille’s engineer responsible for the discovery.  “Once infiltrated, which can be done with $15 worth of hardware and a few lines of code, a hacker has the ability to insert malware that could potentially lead to devastating breaches.”

“The MouseJack discovery validates our thesis that wireless [Internet of Things] technology is already being rolled out in enterprises that don’t realize they are using these protocols,” said Chris Rouland, Bastille's founder and CTO. “Protocols are being developed so quickly, they have not been through sufficient security vetting.”

The vulnerability could potentially affect billions of systems.  “MouseJack underscores the need for security across the entire RF spectrum as exploitation of IoT devices via radio frequencies is becoming increasingly popular among the hacker community,” Rouland said.

While some vendors will be able to offer patches for the MouseJack flaw with a firmware update, many dongles were not designed to be updated. Consumers will need to check with vendor to determine if a fix is available, or consider replacing their existing mouse with a secure one, Bastille said.

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